Training

How Long Does it Take to Regain Strength After a Break?

February 8th 2020

Powerlifters and avid gym-goers alike understand the importance of adhering to their training regimen as best as possible in order to maximize results and promote better overall strength and muscle development. 

Unfortunately, almost all athletes will find themselves having to take time off from the gym at some point within their training due to things such as illness, injury, or a shift in their priorities. 

When this occurs, athletes tend to worry excessively over the amount of time it will take for them to return to where they were and over-think the entire process of returning from extended time off. 

In most cases, athletes who have several years of lifting under their belts will only require a few weeks of consistent training that is comprised of high volume to return back to where they were previously. Those who have less experience with lifting may require several months of consistent training to return to previous strength and fitness levels due to having less muscle memory of certain lifts and intensities when compared to those with more experience. 

Regardless of experience level, it is crucial for those returning to lifting after substantial time off to take a slow and steady pace and to be mindful of their body’s needs for recovery.

Two Major Factors That Determines How Long It Takes To Regain Strength After A Break

Two major factors for athletes to take into consideration when wondering how long it will take to return back to previous strength and fitness levels is the amount of experience they have with lifting along with the amount of time they took off from training. 

In general, those who are new to lifting or who are considered to be novice lifters only have one to two years of experience whereas advanced lifters tend to have at least 2 years of experience with weights or have trained with high frequency (at least 4 to 5 days per week) for over a year. 

Novice or intermediate lifters who have only taken 1 – 2 weeks off are generally able to return back to normal within a 2 week period. Advanced lifters will not be affected as much by a 1 to 2 week break and should be able to return back to normal by the end of their 1st week back to training as long as they train with higher frequency during the week and pay careful attention to their recovery needs. 

Novice lifters who return to training from taking up to 2 weeks off should progressively increase their daily training volume and intensity for 2 weeks. 

Rather than jump right back into intense, high volume training novice lifters should take the 1st week of returning to re-establish frequency, intensity and volume. They should be following a strict program. 

It can be observed that during the 2nd week of returning to training novice lifters may start to slowly add back in intensity throughout the week on compound movements but should maintain higher frequency and moderate volume. This is also known as progressive overloading, where lifters are adding more weight after each successful workout.

Athletes who take over 4 weeks off from training will have differing return times and training approaches depending on their skill level and background with lifting. 

Novice to intermediate lifters who have taken over a month off will start to notice a slight reduction in strength and a moderate reduction in endurance after 4 weeks but will notice a significant loss in both strength and endurance within 12 weeks. 

There can be a simple explanation for this - novice lifters have not established proper training habits in order for their bodies to retain their strength.

In other words, you lose what you do not use. You get detrained.

This is not necessarily a bad thing either. 

With our current living situation in any country, men and women do not need to that overly muscular. This is not efficient for your body to use and store energy.

So, when you take a break, your body will find the best way to optimize your strength levels. Usually, this will be lower than when you started hitting the gym if are not living an active lifestyle.

That said, however, you can definitely appreciate how much strength training affects your quality of life.

In contrast, experienced lifters are able to maintain skeletal muscular strength for up to a month and will not require as much time for returning back to previous strength and endurance levels. 

As a general rule of thumb, athletes who take at least one month off from training should give themselves anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to return back to normal. This means if you are on a structured program, you will need to take your original training weight and take 5-10% off. 

Advanced lifters might be able to hit their one rep max (1RM) on certain lifts within 2 weeks of returning to the gym but may find that it takes several weeks for them to return to lifting with higher repetitions due to a loss in their cardiovascular capacity. 

Novice lifters should return to training at a slower, more progressive pace than those who are more experienced with lifting and should expect to take up to a month to return back to normal if they have taken a month off from training.

Training Required to Regain Strength

It is best for those retuning to the gym to focus on lifting in a way that maximizes strength through compound movements and lifting with lower repetitions and higher intensity. By following a plan which incorporates heavier, more intense lifting coupled with long periods of rest athletes are forced to recruit muscle fibers more efficiently which leads to greater strength. 

Additionally, athletes should continue to focus on utilizing compound movements during their sessions such as squats, bench press, rows, and deadlifts that will allow them to recruit muscle fibers throughout major muscle groups and lift heavier weight. 

The sooner individuals start to incorporate heavy, compound movements back into their training the quicker they will recover back to their prior strength. However, it’s important to keep in mind that those with more experience lifting will be able to return to these movements much easier than those with limited experience. 

Individuals who have extensive experience lifting, especially those with a specialty in strength-based training, should try their best to return to a strength-style program as soon as they can upon returning even if the weight they use it much lighter than previously used. 

Those who have less than a year of experience should ease back into heavy, compound movements by taking a lighter intensity than usual.

General Strength Training Programs For You To Try

You want a program that works. You want a program that does not want to hear your excuses.

Results that cannot be questioned and will not take no for an answer.

These were some of my own criteria when I decided to look for a program.

Of course, you can try to make your own program or follow your buddy’s program.

However, you owe it to yourself to get the best information. To learn how to gain strength efficiently, effectively and for your entire lifetime.

Sounds too good to be true? This is how I got to a 405lbs deadlift… the results of using these two programs I am about to share with you.

Or what about a 225lbs bench press

Or are you looking to just maintain and slowly gain strength over time. No problem, I am currently also running one of these right now.

Ready?

As a novice, I would have you do Starting Strength for a year. Why? 

Because beginner lifters need to know what it means to train hard. To not give up on a set and to establish some mental strength. Run this for a year.

If you do have some prior training experience, I would have you do 5/3/1, the program I am currently running. Why?

Flexible accessories, programs that align with your goals, a long term focus on making sure you are healthy and continue to lift heavy weights.

Though you are not actively challenging yourself every session to break some PRs (in some program variations, that’s part of the different programs mentioned inside the book), you are training heavy. You are doing a lot of volume, depending on what your goals are.

I layed out the blueprint for you.

It’s time to take action and implement these strategies.

What good is this information if you do not test it out for its validity?

Fall down, get into the trenches, feel the victories and everything in between.

The progression of your strength… rests in your hands.

References 

  1. Hwang PS, et al. (2017). Resistance training–induced elevations in muscular strength in trained men are maintained after 2 weeks of detraining and not differentially affected by whey protein supplementation. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001807
  2. McMaster DT, et al. (2013). The development, retention and decay rates of strength and power in elite rugby union, rugby league and American football: A systematic review. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-013-0031-3
  3. Ogasawara R, et al. (2011). Effects of periodic and continued resistance training on muscle CSA and strength in previously untrained men. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-097X.2011.01031.x
  4. Ogasawara R, et al. (2013). Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-012-2511-9
  5. Vigelsø A, et al. (2015). Six weeks’ aerobic retraining after two weeks’ immobilization restores leg lean mass and aerobic capacity but does not fully rehabilitate leg strength in young and older men. DOI: 10.2340/16501977-1961

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